Saturday, August 07, 2010

Camden NJ - oy!

Camden, NJ, preparing to close all its libraries

CAMDEN, N.J. — The library board in Camden, one of the nation's poorest cities, is preparing to close all three of its libraries by the end of the year, saying its funding has been slashed so drastically that it cannot afford to keep operating.
Library officials are hoping enough money surfaces to save the system, but they're preparing for a shutdown and say they're not just threatening it as a ploy.
Budget cuts across the country have caused local officials to close library branches, reduce hours and spend less money on books, computers and other materials. But officials at the American Library Association believe Camden's library system would be the first in the U.S. with multiple branches to check out entirely.
The city of about 80,000 residents across the Delaware River from Philadelphia consistently ranks as one of the nation's most impoverished. It's a place where most families don't own computers, where just one big bookstore serves the local colleges and where some of the public schools don't even have librarians.
I've been to Camden once, long ago, not counting the times I've taken the Ben Franklin Bridge to Philly. I made a pilgrimage to the Walt Whitman House & was appalled then by what I saw in the city.At the time, I believed Whitman would want his house to stay in wretched Camden. Now I think he might prefer it moved elsewhere.

Nobody knows what to do with or for Camden. It has a minuscule middle class clinging to a few old suburban like streets at the fringes,  the poorest city of its size in America. & violent.  Camden survives on institutions; the courthouse; Rutgers; hospitals; an aquarium, Battleship New Jersey, an unaffiliated minor league baseball stadium, & theater all on the waterfront & not really connected with the rest of the city.  Campbell Soup is still headquartered there. Maybe Camden needs the radical shrinkage plan recently proposed for Detroit: entire neighborhoods razed & converted to park or even urban farmland, population & business consolidated into  governable areas.  Maybe Campbell could grow tomatoes there. 

When a city is forced to close its libraries,  can we consider it brain dead?  Until recently, public libraries were an unquestioned  necessity. But unlike schools, there's no law says they have to be  provided. & libraries certainly fall below police & fire services in budgetary considerations. This is a disturbing & interesting moment for public libraries. 

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